Which home theater approach is better: components or all-in-one systems?

Author's Note

I'm fascinated with technology and I love movies, but I'm also a bit of a tightwad. So, over the years, I've experimented with various improvised, low-tech sorts of home theater setups. For about a decade, my wife and I had an old-fashioned, 20-inch cathode-ray TV set, whose audio outputs I ran through an equally ancient 20-watt stereo receiver and a pair of cheap two-way Advent speakers that I think I got at a yard sale. When the picture tube finally started to go, I reluctantly went out to a big-box store and picked up a cheap off-brand 21-inch HDTV. In addition to the connections for our cable box and DVD player, I was excited to discover that it also had an old-fashioned VGA port. That enabled me to hook it up to an old laptop, which I then also plugged in to the Ethernet router on our home computer network. That enabled us to watch streaming content -- YouTube, Netflix, movies and TV episodes downloaded from Amazon or iTunes -- as easily as if I'd gone out and bought one of those state-of-the-art Internet TVs. I'm still trying to figure out how to use the laptop as a digital video recorder as well.

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